Oriole starter Wei-Yin Chen pitched 4.2 innings of no-hit baseball last night, walking two hitters (which were taken care of by a subsequent double play). From that standpoint this outing against the Tampa Rays was pretty decent from Chen’s standpoint. The issue is that Chen pitched 5.2 innings total in the game, and those 4.2 great innings came after he gave up five runs in the first. It seems like no matter what you do and what you defend against, Tampa and Joe Maddon has a way to get to you. I suppose that’s part of the moxie that Buck Showalter is trying to get to Baltimore…however from the standpoint of an opponent it sure can be frustrating at times.
Tampa seemed to be a step ahead of Chen and the Orioles in that first inning. The table was set at the very beginning when Carlos Pena led off by trying to bunt his way on base. In effect, Buck Showalter called his bluff by telling his infield to continue to play a shift on Pena as most teams do. Pena ended up hitting a double, on a ball that went right over right fielder Bill Hall’s head. (Whether or not Nick Markakis would have had the ball is debatable, however this game has a way of finding you when you’re filling in for an injured star.) While Pena got on base, Showalter had correctly assumed that they were feinting the bunt as a decoy. What he also did (in effect by calling Maddon’s bluff) was show Maddon that he was going to play the numbers. By that, I mean that he was going to play his infield in shifts if necessary to cover holes where the Tampa players normally hit the ball…
…however when you have guys that successfully hit against the shift or split the middle infielders, there’s really not much you can do. If you don’t play the numbers, you make it much easier for them to get on base for obvious reasons. If you do, you risk falling victim to one of Maddon’s mind games. Then again, when 37-year old Hideki Matsui hits a two-run homer there really aren’t many mind games to be played. Chen struggled in that first inning, and the Orioles’ pen actually started to get some guys loose when it looked like he wouldn’t make it past the first.
However the reason issue of the game for the Birds was that they couldn’t get to starter David Price. The good thing about giving up five runs in the first inning is that you have eight innings to catch up…IF your pitching can settle down. That’s exactly what Wei-Yin Chen did, and as I said he didn’t give up a hit for the remainder of his 5.2 innings. Chen was flat out impressive after the first inning. However Price was more impressive from the beginning. It seems like everyone’s a step ahead of the Orioles right now in general. The O’s have looked at a lot of pitches the past few games. Most of them have been strikes, but right on the edge of the black. Price was commanding the inside of the strike zone all night, and go figure, home plate umpire Jeff Nelson was giving the inside corner. (I felt that Nelson might have had an unusually large inside edge of the plate, but he was very fair over the course of the game. In fact, there were many pitches that I felt were on the outside corner that he called balls.)
I know that the O’s are trying to work counts and take pitches, which is a good thing. However again, it seems like people are a step ahead of them. Price, along with Toronto’s starters last week knew that, and he nibbled on the strike zone. That can generally be a dangerous thing, however the difference is that Price was good at it. He had no-hit stuff for sure, and the Orioles didn’t record a base hit until Matt Wieters’ fifth inning single.
The pitching aside, the O’s still can’t get the clutch hit, stolen base…the clutch anything at the moment. They looked like they were going to mount a rally when they loaded the bases in the sixth inning. J.J. Hardy flied out to center fielder BJ Upton, who promptly threw out Steve Tolleson at second base (who had tagged up at first) for a double play. This shows why you always have to hustle in this game, because Upton caught Tolleson napping on the base paths, and the umpires correctly ruled that the out had come before Hardy had crossed the plate. They also loaded the bases in the eighth, but Chris Davis’ ground out ended that threat. On the other hand, they weren’t even getting much base traffic in the Toronto series, so this might be somewhat of a good sign. However it doesn’t mean much if you can’t get them home.
The Orioles will try to snap their six-game losing streak this afternoon as they send Brian Matusz to the mound against Tampa’s Jeremy Hellickson. Matusz has had three straight quality starts despite losing last Sunday to Kansas City. Incidentally, I’m not calling out Buck Showalter for playing the odds against Tampa. It’s almost a catch-22 in the sense that their hitters have their tendencies for sure, however they’re also very nimble and they can often hit against their own tendencies. And the worst part is that they know your tendencies and they can expose them. This is just a phase that the Orioles are going through, and at some point it’ll end. One can only hope that it’s sooner rather than later.
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